Letters to the Editor

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Information was
widely available

Editor,
Thanks for your full and informative piece in, “Alamo officials not happy with outcome of vote.” (El Defensor Chieftain, Dec. 19) I wish there were pieces like this from all the chapters across the Navajo Nation.
Council Delegate Apachito’s comments, while informative and insightful as to his personal point of view, are opinion rather than statements of fact.
When he states, “We’ve been trying to get is a plan from the Navajo Nation president,” everything there is to know has been public information since President Shirley first announced the initiative effort on April 29, 2008. I’ve written literally dozens of news releases, all of which are on www.navajo.org, and many which the Speaker’s Office has responded to. If Mr. Apachito is still somehow uninformed about the government reform initiatives, he either is not reading newspapers or is not doing his own research and homework on a topic of significant historical importance to the entire Navajo Nation.
The initiative ballot language states that it would be up to the Navajo Nation Council to begin restructuring the Legislative Branch upon approval of the initiatives. That includes approving a reapportionment plan. The Council, and delegates like Apachito, spoke before the election, and now again, as if this is unknown. It has been known for 19 months. It has been repeatedly stated at 22 public forums held to educate the public about the initiatives and broadcast on KTNN-AM (a radio station in Window Rock, Ariz.) numerous times.
Now that the two initiatives have been approved by voters, we will see what the Council does and whether the Navajo Election Administration, which is under the Speaker’s Office, proposes a new reapportionment plan in a timely way or continues to stall, despite the expression of the people’s desire through the election.
Alamo Chapter President Scott Apachito is quoted as saying he doesn’t know whether the financial allocations will continue to the be same or not. That’s a decision of the Navajo Nation Council, not the president, as it always has been. It is the Council that makes those appropriations. The Navajo President does not have authority to sponsor legislation on budget matters or anything else. Further, the Navajo Office of Management and Budget stated that Navajo chapters received $69.6 million in Fiscal Year 2009. This information is contained in the literature distributed as inserts to the Navajo Times and Gallup Independent prior to the election, and is posted on www.navajo.org. It was also readily available to both Council Delegate Apachito and Chapter President Apachito.
Your story quotes Angela Apache, secretary-treasurer of the Alamo council, as saying, “It will be twice as hard for Alamo to get services.” That, too, appears to be an unsubstantiated opinion. Again, whether Alamo receives the unnamed services she is talking about is up to the Council, not the Navajo President. All appropriations are made by the Council.
Apache is also quoted as saying many people in Alamo weren’t aware of the ballot initiatives or that a vote was even going to take place. Considering that the announcement of the initiatives began 19 months ago, this effort stands as one of the longest campaigns leading to an election in Navajo Nation history. Not even Navajo presidential election campaigns last this long.
The Navajo Board of Election Supervisors set the Dec. 15 election date at its Sept. 18 meeting, three months prior to the election. There was ample coverage of the issue in the press. Associated Press stories appeared in the New York Times, throughout the West, and, of course, in local and regional papers. While it is conceivable that people who do not read newspapers regularly may not have been as informed as others, all of this was also broadcast on Navajo radio station KTNN-AM and the president talked about it repeatedly in his Navajo language weekly radio addresses to the Navajo people.
Delegate Apachito is quoted as saying Navajo members who live in Albuquerque said they had not been notified of the election. That was the responsibility of the Navajo Election Administration which is under the Speaker of the Council’s office, which vigorously opposed the initiatives and the election since they were announced in April 2008. Because the Council failed to appropriate funding for the election and the NEA refused to use the $1.1 million it already had in its budget, the election was paid for using funds transferred from the Navajo Nation Motor Vehicle Authority. This is another example of how government officials tried to prevent the election from taking place. Albuquerque Navajo, as well as those who live in Phoenix and elsewhere, are perfectly justified in feeling disenfranchised, and President Shirley tried to bring this to everyone’s attention.
Your story reports that the Window Rock District Court issued “a temporary injunction that essentially made the action taken by the council null and void.” It is a permanent injunction and it definitively declared the Council resolution null and void.
Council Delegate Apachito’s statement about the public forums imply that he did not attend and that his information is based on hearsay, i.e., “What I hear is that they were going after each other.” In fact, it was difficult to get council delegates or those who opposed the initiatives to speak at the forums. Council Delegate Young Jeff Tom refused to speak at his own chapter at the invitation of Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie, who supported both initiatives. Many of the forums were broadcast on KTNN-AM radio and publicized in advance. By listening, people can determine for themselves whether  anyone was going after another’s throat, as Apachito states. Obviously, the president and the Initiative Committee were obliged to provide factual information, which it did, including Internet links for the public and press to independently verify and substantiated statements that were made. By contract, information produced by the Speaker’s Office was unsigned, unsubstantiated and largely opinion unsupported by fact. Time and again, when the press tried to obtain comment from the Speaker’s Office, there was no response.
Alamo Chapter President Scott Apachito’s statement that President Shirley will have too much power now that the initiatives have been approved by voters is also inaccurate. This is a statement made by opponents prior to the election. The Navajo Nation Supreme Court addressed this issue in its July 18, 2008, opinion and found that the president’s power will be “expanded” only by line item veto authority. To state that he will have “too much power” or that he will have “full authority of the bills now” is misleading and an exaggeration.
Apachito’s statement that the President somehow slighted or disrespected Navajo ancestors by boasting that the election is historic is speculation on his part that has no context in anything the president has said. Again, the Navajo Supreme Court has stated in its July 18, 2008, opinion that the Navajo people have the right to change their government through the initiative process.
“Under Fundamental Law, the Navajo people, as well as the Council, may make laws for the good of the community,” the court said. “The people’s authority to make laws is not delegated to them by the Council. The referendum and initiative processes are modern acknowledgment of this authority.”
Both George Apachito and Scott Apachito ask how the initiatives will affect Alamo in this news story, and the answer remains with the Navajo Nation Council, not the president or his office. It is now up to the Legislative Branch to begin the restructuring process and up to the Navajo Election Administratin to begin the reapportionment process — as has been the case from the very beginning. Had either foreseen the outcome of the election, they could have begun this process last year. Instead, they put all of their effort into persuading the public to vote against the initiatives, to stall the election, and to do what they could to prevent the initiatives from ever going to a vote. All of this has been thoroughly detailed in news stories.
The Navajo people have spoken through the democratic process. The representative of the Alamo Chapter may not like the outcome but the right to vote on important issues of the day is what makes the Navajo Nation and the United States great.
I encourage both representatives or residents of Alamo Chapter to contact the President’s office or me directly for any information they may seek.

George Hardeen, Communications Director
Office of the President & Vice President, The Navajo Nation